Monday, September 13, 2010

Face-Lift 820

Guess the Plot

Retired Shadows

1. When occlusions get old they're forced to retire and go live in the "old shadow's home," to be looked after by the occlusions of sexy nurses. Tavila is an old retired gypsy shadow that holds seances for passed-on shadows, and constantly reminds the retired shadows, "don't go into the light."

2. After you die, what becomes of your shadow? Enter the world of Blakemore Cthoth, Keeper of the Shadow-Souls. It's a gloomy domain--until the day Blakemore falls for Sunny, a naive cheerleader.

3. When someone dies, it severs the mysterious link between them and their shadow. The treacherous shadowhunter YooKoo has made it his mission to hunt down these retired shadows and give them a fate worse than death. Enter burger flipper Chris, who has made it his mission to thwart YooKoo at every turn--until Chris's own shadow gets kidnapped!

4. When people die, their shadows have to go somewhere; that's where Fier's Shady Rest Home comes in. When Ken Carmichael mistakes it for somewhere to send his aged mother-in-law, chaos ensues.

5. Michael Benson used to be one of the best in the business. He could follow someone anywhere and not be seen. Now he's retired. But when his old partner asks for help taking down the mobsters chasing his son, Michael wonders if h'es capable of shadowing anyone while driving his electric scooter.

6. There's only one thing Wendell Hume hates about being a retired CIA agent: active or not you can’t talk about what you know. When events start to remind him of an old case, and no one will investigate it, its up to him and 4 of his friends who are also retired operatives to stop a terrorist attack.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Chris Ayala talks to shadows. Thanks to an unlucky incident involving a black cat, Chris can hear shadows talking back. [Is black cat what they call it now? In my day we called it purple haze, yellow sunshine, pink panther and golden dragon.] Elow, the retired shadow of a dead girl, lives in hiding amongst the tombstones of Oak Creek Cemetery, where she first met Chris [who was there scoring some orange cupcakes]. Elow’s days are focused upon not being seen and not becoming mistaken for a ghost. Her nights are spent evading YooKoo, the treacherous, winged shadow hunter, whose sole intention is capturing and dooming all retired shadows to a fate much worse than the deaths their humans have undergone, the deaths which sever the mysterious link between people and their shadows. [YooKoo may be treacherous, but if does his shadow hunting at night, he's also an idiot. Everyone knows shadows are hard to see when it's dark.]

Because Elow is Chris’s favorite conversationalist, the recent High School graduate becomes bent upon thwarting YooKoo’s plans whenever he’s not dishing out burgers and fries at his summer job. [So that's why YooKoo hunts at night: he has a day job at McDonalds.] [If I walked into McDonalds and the guy behind the counter had wings, I think I'd head for Burger King.] In the curious world of retired shadows, however, one victory leads to the kidnapping of Chris’s own shadow; one that shouldn’t be accessible to the enemy while Chris is still alive. [When you're working a summer job at McDonalds, are you really alive?]

RETIRED SHADOWS is a middle grade fantasy complete at just over 23,000 words. It spotlights multicultural characters, [A normal kid, a shadow, and a winged creature. That's as multicultural as it gets.] the paranormal, and the beauty of the Southern United States. [Where the fast food joints have golden arches!]


YooKoo sounds like a character in a 1st grade book. A treacherous hunter would want a name that strikes fear into his victims. A name like Euku.

23,000 words is a skinny book. The kind of kid who prefers his books skinny is probably the kind who also doesn't want the plot interrupted with descriptions of the beautiful South.

Why is Yewk so obsessed with torturing shadows? Are shadows dangerous? Did a shadow kill his father? Is he a serial shadow killer? We need character motivation.

If Elow is Chris's favorite conversationalist, I assume he spends a lot of his free time in the Oak Creek cemetery. What's that all about? When his parents ask him where he's going every night after dinner, does he say he's going down to the cemetery to hang out?

If there's a retired shadow for every dead person, it doesn't seem like Elow would have to devote her nights to hiding from Yuke, when he has millions of other potential victims. Is he specifically after her?

Does Chris talk to shadows of living people? Because I can see how that would lead to some embarrassing situations.

Perhaps you could work in what happened with the black cat by opening: Ever since that black cat crossed his path 13 times, Chris Ayala has been able to chat with shadows.


Marissa Doyle said...

I see a bit of a problem here...most middle-grade readers (and editors of MG books) aren't going to be terribly interested in an 18 or 19 year old main character. 13 would be more like it.

Rebecca Christiansen said...

The word "retired" kind of implies old people, Florida, and Depends... and I don't think those words are going to attract any reader in your target age range.

angela robbins said...

Marissa just said what I was going to say. Also, I agree with EE, why would YK hunt shadows at night?

Anonymous said...

The language is weakened by stative verbs, the passive voice, negative constructions, and other hesitations.

Elow’s days are focused upon not being seen and not becoming mistaken for a ghost. -- So Elow is focusing on not having something starting to be done to her? Get rid of the passive voice, the stative "become," the undescriptive "focus," and the negatives. And while we're at it, why doesn't she want to be mistaken for a ghost? It should be the perfect disguise to hide from YooKoo.

YooKoo . . . whose sole intention is capturing and dooming all retired shadows to a fate much worse than the deaths their humans have undergone -- So YooKoo only has the intention to do this stuff? It's not his actual practice or habit? Get rid of the stative verb ("sole intention is"); also, you happen to be using gerunds ("capturing" and "dooming") where infinitives would be preferable. And get rid of the passive ("have undergone").

Because Elow is Chris’s favorite conversationalist, the recent High School graduate becomes bent upon thwarting YooKoo’s plans -- Elow is, Chris becomes -- ditch these stative verbs for some active ones. And that's an awkward and belated introduction of Chris as a high school student. And did I mention that simply "thwarting YooKoo's plans" reduces this whole conflict to one guy planning something and another guy wrecking his plans?

Is the "one" in one that shouldn’t be accessible to the enemy while Chris is still alive a victory? That's what it seems like from the sentence construction, but I don't think of victory as being "accessible" (achievable, yes) and I don't understand why victory -- or any other possible antecedent in that sentence -- should not be accessible while Chris is still alive.

Multicultural characters, eh? You are simultaneously inclusive and occlusive! Good trick, but what difference does it make? Is YooKoo a Black guy while Chris is white? Was Elow a Mississippi Indian when she was alive? If so/not, why didn't you say so at first/whom are you talking about?

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
vkw said...

I understand at least at one time, (I'm not sure now), that multi-cultural books for children were sought after. Which would be good for you, if they still are and if you demonstrated in your query this selling point.

The rest of what EE is right on. You don't tell us enough about Chris or Elow or why the bad guy would pick on Elow or for that matter what fun is it to torture shadows anyway?

I'm mean except for those that hang out in payphones and steal other guys' gals, do they have much feelings or can they feel at all?

If the shadows are asked, "If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?"

Do they answer

a. Yes
b. Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice
c. Yes and there is a good explanation for this
d. All of the above.

If the answer is d, then clue the reader in.


150 said...

Once in a while I go Googling on these queries to see if there's a first chapter anywhere. You might want to know, author, that the first result for "Chris Ayala" is a new item about an accused statutory rapist.

Word ver = faffing. Really, Word Ver? Really?

Stephen Prosapio said...

I think a lot of my and other people's issues with this query is that there is a lack of set up. We don't find out until quite a ways into the query that the MC is a recent HS graduate. In fact we have NO idea other than talking to shadows what he is.

Also it's very confusing to have a "retired shadow" pretending not to be a "ghost" without giving us any explanation as to what a retired shadow is. A line or two at the begining of the query would help clear both these issues up. Something like:

Most people who think they see ghosts are really just seeing retired shadows. Spirits with their own personalities which roam the earth in search of ______, retired shadows can't be heard by humans--except for recent HS grad Chris Ayala.

(that's completely off the top of my head, but you should get the picture... or at least the shadow of one)

Anonymous said...

RETIRED SHADOWS might do better as title for a book about retired lines of eyeshadow.

batgirl said...

I'd say ditch the black cat reference entirely. It doesn't matter _why_ Chris can talk to shadows, only that he _does_ talk to shadows.
And if you try to explain it further, you'll get people griping about backstory taking up space that should be given to story. Speaking of which, what does happen in this story?
And are you pitching it as MG because it's so short? There's more to reading level than length, seriously.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

What do you call a bunch of retired shadows hanging out together? Shade.

The underlying premise is actually kinda cool. However, the subject, tone and language as presented here are not really age appropriate. Unfortunately, with those three strikes against the story, coupled with such a low word count, it really doesn't matter how good a query you can come up with. My best advice is to take 5 years off Chris and add 20,000 words to the ms.

If you're willing to do that, I think we'd be willing to look at a query revision in the meantime -- to help you focus that new storyline.

Anonymous said...

I also vote for finding a new title and reconsidering the genre. Although the protagonist seems old for middle grade. Much else, as described here, seems less sophisticated than what I'm used to seeing in middle grade fantasy.

_*rachel*_ said...

What EE said. And I wondered about Chris' age, too.

You could try to query this as a novella or serial for a magazine.

M. G. E. said...

I'll tell you what the biggest problem with your query is: "...23,000 words."

Once again, I fear a Middle-Grade market has been chosen due to the "book" being short on length.

Your story seems more young adult, and a story of that length is likely not publishable as a YA book. The psychology of holding a book in hand means a buyer would pass yours over as feeling thin without even regarding the rest of the story. We're talking 50k-75k as YA.

I mean, 23,000 words, that's not even book length, that's still within the realm of being a long short-story :P You haven't even hit "novelette" category yet.

I could sit down and write 23,000 words in an afternoon and have editing/revisions done by the end of the week >_>

But then you go and look naive by writing a MG novel with an 18 y.o.(!) protagonist. Or did he graduate high school at age 10? >_>

In any case, here's some guidelines on word counts for various categories over at GTLA.

batgirl said...

One option for the writer, if length is the reason for pitching it as MG instead of YA - look into e-publishers. I'm not very up on YA e-pubbing, but I understand that shorter works are more welcome for e-reading than print.

M. G. E. said...

Actually, one of the major impacts e-publishing is having / going-to-have on novels is the complete destruction of length limits generally.

What held the novel to minimum 75k words was that people didn't want to pay $24 for a hardcover that felt "skinny" compared to other hardcovers at that price.

And what kept the novel to a max of 110k words generally was the cost of printing larger books which would begin to eat into profits at that price.

But, with an ebook, 100k or 1,000k words--distribution costs are exactly the same.

If you could write a story worth a million words it would be a hell of a value though :P